South Africa

Cape priest leads panty protest in Bishopscourt

Cape Town - Women’s rights activists from the One Billion Rising SA campaign and Philisa Abafazi Bethu SA joined Reverend June Major on Monday to line the gates of the residence of the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa with women’s underwear.

Major, 51, last month held a week-long hunger strike outside the home of Archbishop Thabo Makgoba in Bishopscourt, to force the church to investigate her alleged rape by a fellow priest in 2002.

“One of the questions that the police officer had asked me was what panties was I wearing the night that he raped me, and that is the reason why the panties were hung, and specifically 180 panties. It’s 10 panties for each year of the 18 years,” said Major, an ordained priest for more than 16 years.

“I became very emotional because what stands between the rapist and his victim is the panty, and that’s basically the last thing that comes off before he penetrates you.

“It evoked so much pain inside of me the fact that the police officer even asked me such a question is just ludicrous, and so the message we tried to convey is that it does not matter what clothing you are wearing.”

The demonstration took place as the country marked Women’s Day.

“As the country was celebrating and we remember the remarkable women who marched to the Union Building in 1956, now our women are facing something completely different,” said Major.

“They marched against an enemy, against pass laws and an apartheid state; but now the enemy is close to home, in our bedrooms, at the post office, even in our places of worship.”

Major criticised the manner in which she is being treated by the church as an internal investigation into her claim is under way.

“In their last email to me, it had very strong threatening undertones which I really did not appreciate. Pastoral love and care went out the window. It is very demeaning and shows no compassion whatsoever.”

Major asked that an external team conduct the investigation, and questioned how the same patriarchal system which has silenced her for 18 years is able to investigate one of their own.

“The fact that seeing a panty around a fence might offend people because that’s very private, a man (forcefully) penetrating a woman, is that not offensive?”

Attempts for comment from Makgoba’s office were unsuccessful.

Activist Lucinda Evans asked why it had taken years and two hunger strikes in order for the church to pay attention and take action.

“As One Billion Rising South Africa, we need the church to stop disappointing the women of this country and give Reverend June Major the justice she deserves. We demand the immediate suspension of the alleged perpetrator and that the church assist Reverend Major with opening the criminal charge and implement their sexual harassment policy.”

Cape Argus

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